Living with Artificial Intelligence

The third annual Tallinn Digital Summit 2019 had a special focus on AI for public value.
Susan Fourtané

Estonia is a pioneer in digital initiatives. The Estonian government-initiated AI strategy counts with over 20 machine learning-based solutions live in the Estonian public sector. In Estonia, citizens are always the owners of their own data. None of this comes as a surprise, though, in a country which has been named the most advanced digital society in the world by many. Below, the opening to the third annual Tallinn Digital Summit that took place on September 16 - 17.   

According to the definition used in the European Union, Artificial Intelligence is described as "systems that exhibit intelligent behavior, that analyze their surrounding environments, and make autonomous decisions to a certain extent to achieve goals."

The Tallinn Digital Summit brought together over 200 experts from 23 digitally-minded countries, top leaders from governments, private sector, and scientist to discuss the use and applications of a current hot topic: Artificial Intelligence (AI) for public value.

The Summit discussed the use of Artificial Intelligence in government, smart cities, healthcare, as well as the legal, social, and ethical aspects of it. 

Acknowledging the current state of AI in the world, and speaking at the opening, Jüri Ratas, Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia, said that "AI is here, and we have to learn to use it to make our lives better."

How to co-exist with AI 

"AI by default is designed to follow the rules, people are designed to break or rewrite the rules. You either limit human creativity to break the rules as much as possible, or keep the robots in closed environments," said Dr. Ralph-Martin Soe in a panel discussion on how to co-exist with AI. 

Dr. Soe is Founding Director of Smart City CoE and Senior Researcher, Tallinn University of Technology, Ragnar Nurkse Department of Innovation and Governance. 

AI social and political impacts

A panel discussion integrated by Ben Cerveny, President of the Foundation for Public Code and who also acted as panel moderator; Stephen Hsu, Senior Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Michigan State University; and Nanjira Sambuli, Senior Policy Manager at the World Wide Web Foundation discussed how the transition of what we consider technology is moving to what we consider infrastructure.

"There is a moment when technology becomes widely deployed in society and it becomes infrastructural," says Ben Cerveny. "Circles of innovation are becoming highly compressed." 

Najira Sambulini thinks that "there is a disconnect currently there in how the world is presently, as how to situate the technical within the social and the political without making it seem like we can reorder the world, but that we can frame it nicely within the technologies we are building today." 

Discussing about explainable AI, Stephen Hsu said that "we become used to technologies and get used to relying on them. Explainability is a myth."

AI race and rules: A European perspective 

Microsoft President for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) Michel van der Bel spoke about how the use of AI is already showing a perspective that can be a big part of the economy for the Future. Van der Bel focused on the European perspective.

According to Microsoft Research, software engineering is growing 11 percent faster in non-tech than in tech. And the auto industry, an important industry in Europe, is hiring software engineers three times faster than mechanical engineers. 

This trend responds to the fact that every company wants to build their own capabilities. So, basically every company is becoming a tech company. Michel van der Bel says that AI is already improving processes, simplifying work flows, and driving better business outcomes.

Machine learning, natural learning processing (NLP), and chatbots bring efficiency and speed as well as evolving their business models. AI makes businesses more competitive. In large companies, this means being more efficient. There is also a huge economic potential. 

The insurance market is now also using machine learning, NLP, and chatbots. They are coming up with very quick quotes and payouts in a matter of minutes. Van der Bel says they are not only proving that they are efficient but also that by applying this combination of technologies their business models are evolving. 

According to van der Bel, AI makes businesses more competitive and large companies more efficient. "A study suggests a 2.7 trillion growth, which is 20 percent of the European economic output by 2030," he says. This gives perspective that AI can fuel that kind of big part of the economy for the future.  

Green Pledge: Climate neutral, fully sustainable by 2030 

There was also a focus on how AI can help nations in achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. And during the Summit, there was a surprising announcement. Estonian technology companies came together with a common goal of pursuing environmental sustainability by announcing the Tech Green Pledge.

Through this initiative, 33 tech companies so far commit to making their business operations fully sustainable by 2030. The initiative is open to other companies as well as supporting individuals who wish to join and become climate neutral by 2030. You can join by following this link.

According to the United Nations, based on research conducted by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Accenture, digital technologies have the potential to enable a 20 percent reduction of global carbon emissions (CO2) by 2030

It is worth noting that Estonia has the best overall air quality in the whole world, according the World Health Organization. 

AI in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals

Research and initiatives on AI and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) look at how to identify key themes and questions in need of further exploration.

The state of AI and the SDGs was also reviewed in two sectors – food and agriculture, and healthcare – in order to understand if and how AI is being deployed to address the SDGs as well as the challenges and opportunities in doing so.

Understanding AI: It begins with education 

Finally, a great contribution to the discussion came from Maria Rautavirta from the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications. She illustrated how in Finland inclusivity begins from understanding, and understanding AI is paramount.

Finland is well known for the quality of its free educational system. To help the population understand AI, a public online course by the University of Helsinki, The Elements of AI, aims to demystify AI. According to Rautavirta, already more than 200,000 Finns have taken the course on AI so far. 

The course has spread worldwide with graduates from over 110 countries with 40 percent of the participants being women. The course encourages people to learn what AI is, what can (and what can’t) be done with AI, and how to start creating AI methods by a combination of theory with practical exercises. 

By empowering people with understanding AI, the fears of the unknown disappear. Learning and understanding AI is what we all need to learn in order to live with AI. 

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